"He was coming out of the Army, I was coming out of a divorce, and we desperately needed those funds," Mascaro said via email, adding that at the time the two were not married, living separately and each making about $8 to $10 per hour.
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The pair also used $6,000 of student loan funds from Krudop's final year at Texas State University to start a seasonal tour business in Estes Park, Colo., which is now in its third year of operation.
"We figured if we broke even we didn't lose anything and we could always go get 'careers' after the season," she wrote. "If we made a little more money we'd consider it a well spent vacation."
Using their student loan money as startup capital was the couple's only option, Mascaro said, noting that she and Krudop had both previously filed for bankruptcy.
"In retrospect, I think we made the right decision," she wrote, noting that Estes Excursions made $20,000 in its first season and now brings in close to $47,000 a season, which runs from mid-May to Labor Day.
Mascaro and Krudop, both 30, currently have close to $78,000 in student loan debt, the bulk of it federal direct loans. Outside of their seasonal business, Mascaro – who graduated from Michigan State University in 2010 with a degree in journalism – makes roughly $29,000 per year as a Web designer.
Her husband, who earned a bachelor's in anthropology in 2011, has yet to secure a full-time job.
Combined, the two pay $250 a month toward their student loans on an income-based repayment plan.
"The worst part is, we have to save our cash to buy a house," she said. "Because our student loans are now so high, together, we cannot finance a house."
Meehan is in the same boat. She used both federal and private lenders, and despite consolidating her loans, recently defaulted on one of them.
"I'll probably never be able to purchase a house, car or even get a credit card," she wrote. "All for cute clothes over a decade ago!"
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